Take the early 2000s, for example. During the recession caused by the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the Fed lowered rates almost to zero, yet the stimulative effect was strikingly weak. Aside from today’s economy, the 2000s expansion was by far the weakest in postwar history, despite being driven by a housing bubble of world-historical proportions and enormous deficit spending. Then came the financial crisis in late 2007 and early 2008. When the economy fell into recession, the Fed started to lower rates sharply and reached near zero by late 2008. (For complicated reasons, the Fed refuses to go all the way to zero.) This action, coupled with the sizable fiscal stimulus of 2009, was enough to stave off a full-blown depression, but it was not enough to prevent mass unemployment, which spiked to over 10 percent and, more importantly, has come down at an agonizing pace. The prime working-age employment rate collapsed during the crisis, and has barely budged since (see Graph 4). Free Money Everyday
Why? Because the economy has evolved to a point where it is vulnerable to mild depressions. In fact, the one we’re in now could persist for decades, as similar conditions have in Japan and other countries. In order to avoid that slow, painful outcome, we need a policy that will jump-start our economy. After three straight years of political gridlock it’s clear that Congress is not going to provide the fiscal stimulus we need, and while the tools the Federal Reserve has at its disposal have helped, they’ve not done enough. If Congress could be persuaded to give the Fed a new tool, one that would let it distribute purchasing power to the broad mass of the population—to “drop money from helicopters,” so to speak—it might be enough to help us escape the nightmare of slow growth and persistent unemployment we’re in now. Federal Grant Recipient Database